Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets with States parties

GENEVA (8 November 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning held an informal meeting with States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In her opening statement, Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had made remarkable progress since its last meeting with States parties almost two years ago, both in implementing the Convention and United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/268.  The Chair stressed in particular the country task force approach to examining reports by States; the formulation of shorter, focused and country-specific concluding observations; and the increased use of videoconference technology for the remote participation of States in constructive dialogues, adding that the Committee’s growing work following the adoption of resolution 68/268 had not been matched with staffing support.  

Ms. Leinarte paid tribute to outgoing Committee Experts: Ayse Feride Acar, Magalys Arocha Dominguez, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Yoko Hayashi, Lilian Hofmeister, Ismat Jahan, and Patricia Schulz, saluting their untiring efforts in helping States implement their obligations under the Convention.

Yoko Hayashi, Committee Expert, briefed the States on working methods in line with General Assembly resolution 68/268 and the harmonization with other treaty bodies, focusing in particular on the simplified reporting procedure, reporting guidelines, and the follow-up procedure.  She said the Committee had endorsed the San José Guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals and had appointed rapporteurs and focal points for reprisals.

Patricia Schulz, Committee Expert, informed the States about individual communications, raising concern about the stark under-staffing in the Petition Unit.  The Committee had the capacity to handle more cases than the current none to 12, and although the Petition Unit would prepare 15 draft decisions per year as of 2019, the backlog would continue to grow.

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Expert, spoke about the inquiry procedure under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which enabled the Committee to address grave or systematic violations by a State party.  The Expert noted that States only funded visits and not human resources, while work on inquiries took 50 per cent of staff time.

Nicole Ameline, Committee Expert, briefed on synergies between the Convention and the 2030 Agenda, noting that the Committee took into account the Sustainable Development Goals in the simplified reporting procedure, list of issues, constructive dialogue, and concluding observations and recommendations.

In the ensuring discussion, States parties highlighted the importance of the Committee and its recommendations which supported States in ensuring the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the Convention, and were heartened by the constant attention the Committee gave to women, peace and security in its dialogues with States, including those which did not experience conflict.  They recognized its support to States on synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the Convention, as well as the efforts to harmonize working methods with other treaty bodies, which was essential in reducing the workload related to reporting.  States were very pleased with the simplified reporting procedure, while the list of issues prior to reporting was very useful in focusing the constructive dialogue.  States wished to learn more about the steps that treaty bodies were taking to prepare for the 2020 review, urged further harmonization in order to eliminate the duplication in recommendations and concluding observations, and proposed the adoption of a comprehensive calendar for State party reviews which would be harmonized with other treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review.

Speaking in the discussion were Israel, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Italy, Costa Rica, Canada, Paraguay, Switzerland, Turkey, Egypt, Norway, and Belgium.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

The Committee will reconvene at 4 p.m. on Friday, 9 November to formally close its seventy-first session.

Opening Statement

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, in her opening statement, said that it had been almost two years since the Committee had last informally met with States parties and said that remarkable progress had been made since then, both in implementing the Convention and United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/268.  The Chair stressed in particular the country task force approach to examining the reports of States; the formulation of shorter, focused and country-specific concluding observations; and the increased use of videoconference technology for the remote participation of States in constructive dialogues.  However, the Chair added, the Committee’s work had continued to grow since the adoption of resolution 68/268, but it had not been matched with the staffing support.

The Chair then briefed States parties on the elaboration of general recommendations, which provided authoritative guidance to States in their implementation of the Convention.  General recommendation number 35 on gender-based violence, adopted on 18 July 2017, extended the scope of “violence against women” to all forms of “gender-based violence against women”, thus strengthening the understanding of this type of violence as a social rather than merely individual phenomenon.  It highlighted that women’s exposure to violence was closely linked to various forms of inequalities and that it was frequently a consequence of intersecting forms of discrimination.  As a novelty in international law, the general recommendation observed that the prohibition of gender-based violence against women had evolved into a principle of customary international law, which had a great potential for strengthening the position of victims.  General recommendation number 37 on disaster risk reduction and climate change of March 2018, the first interpretative guidance on those issues by a human rights treaty body, provided guidance to States parties on achieving gender equality as a factor that would reinforce the resilience of women and communities in the context of climate-induced disasters.  The Committee was elaborating a general recommendation on trafficking in women and girls in the context of global migration, which would address the gendered dimensions of trafficking, including risk factors that exposed women and girls on the move to sexual exploitation and abuse, and would also tackle the responsibilities of States to address organized crime, including combatting illicit financial flows that fuelled the trafficking of women and girls.

In conclusion, the Chair paid tribute to outgoing Committee Experts: Ayse Feride Acar, Magalys Arocha Dominguez, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Yoko Hayashi, Lilian Hofmeister, Ismat Jahan, and Patricia Schulz, saluting their untiring efforts in helping States implement their obligations under the Convention.

Statements by Committee Experts

YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Expert, in her briefing on working methods in line with General Assembly resolution 68/268, said that the Committee had introduced the simplified reporting procedure in 2015, on a pilot basis, but had suspended the practice in 2016 as it had not assisted States parties to produce more focused information, or improved the quality of the constructive dialogue.  The Committee had decided to reintroduce the procedure in 2018, in an effort to harmonize the reporting procedure with other treaty bodies.  The simplified reporting procedure was now applicable to States parties which had submitted their initial report under the regular procedure, and whose updated common core document in accordance with the procedure set by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, did not date back longer than five years.  The Committee had updated the reporting guidelines in 2018 and at the present session, which now included a check list of issues relating to its new general recommendations and the Sustainable Development Goal target 5.1.  There were efforts to harmonize the follow-up procedure with other treaty bodies, while the information that the States submitted under the follow-up procedure was now more visible both on the webpage and in the subsequent concluding observations.  Finally, Ms. Hayashi said that the Committee had endorsed the San José Guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals and had appointed rapporteurs and focal points for reprisals.

PATRICIA SCHULZ, Committee Expert, said that the Committee had received 135 individual communications to date and drew attention to 49 pending cases, of which 23 were procedurally ready for decisions, and which awaited treatment by the Committee as the Petition Unit did not have sufficient resources to prepare the draft decisions.  Presently, the Committee adopted nine to 12 decisions per year, but had the capacity to handle more cases.  Starting in 2019, the Petition Unit would prepare 15 drafts per year, but this would not prevent the continuing increase of the backlog, Ms. Schulz said, raising concern about the stark under-staffing therein.  The Committee was often faced with delays in receiving responses from States parties and it would streamline the procedure by reducing the number of exchanges of written submissions between author and States parties.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Expert, spoke about the inquiry procedure under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, stressing that they enabled the Committee to address grave or systematic violations by a State party, upon receipt of reliable information.  To do so, the Committee’s working group had produced a comprehensive standard operating procedure and various guidelines.  To date, the Committee had received 14 requests, of which four had been discontinued for failing to meet the threshold under article 8 to the Optional Protocol, seven were awaiting a visit, and four were under follow up.  The average time from the receipt of an inquiry to a visit took three to four years, the Expert remarked, adding that such a delay took away from the urgency and the gravity of the cases presented.  Ms. Gbedemah outlined the challenges, which included financial and human resource constraints as States only funded visits and not human resources, while work on inquiries took 50 per cent of staff time, and there was slow response from States parties.

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Expert, remarked that by adopting the 2030 Agenda, States had recognized the place and role of the rights of women in sustainable development and the positive transformation of the world towards peace.  Because of its scope and approach, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was the foundation of this approach, and represented an operational roadmap for an effective achievement of equality.  It was compatible with all cultures and took into account the diverse nature of States and societies.

The Committee’s key recommendations in this regard were to give strategic priority to governance and the effective implementation of equality, to strengthen the legislative framework, to implement the veritable leadership of women at all levels of decision-making, and to respect equality within a family.  The Committee was on the side of States in their quest for progress and social transformation and respect of equality, Ms. Ameline stressed, noting that it had set up a Working Group with UN Women on the evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goal target 5.1.1. and proposed that this group be institutionalized.  It was also taking into account the Sustainable Development Goals in the simplified reporting procedure, list of issues, constructive dialogue, and concluding observations and recommendations.

Statements by States Parties

Israel highlighted the importance of the Committee and its work and expressed pride that one of its nationals, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, was the Committee’s long-serving member.  Following its recent review by the Committee, Israel was working on putting its concluding observations in practice.  The Committee’s recommendations supported States in ensuring the enjoyment of rights enshrined in the Convention, concluded Israel.

Argentina said that the National Institute for Women was drafting the national action plan on gender equality and the national action plan for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  One of its working groups was working on the follow-up to the Committee’s recommendations issued after the 2017 review, and there were several bodies within the Government which were addressing the issue of gender-based violence against women.
 
Colombia was looking forward to a constructive dialogue with the Committee in 2019 and said that it was actively working on awareness raising and on strengthening institutional capacity for gender equality, while the peace agreement contained a cross-cutting gender perspective.  All this would make it possible for Colombia to work on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.

Chile thanked the Committee for its support to States on synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the Convention, and also on the efforts to harmonize working methods with other treaty bodies, which was essential in reducing States workload related to reporting.  Chile urged the Committee to work with other treaty bodies to eliminate duplication in recommendations and concluding observations.

Italy reiterated its full support for the work of the Committee and said that, as a newly elected member of the Human Rights Council, it would continue to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality, which were Italy’s key priorities.

Costa Rica urged the Committee to reflect on the harmonization with other treaty bodies in matters such as reporting and common guidelines for concluding observations, and asked it about concrete steps taken in the run up to the 2020 treaty bodies review.

Canada was very pleased to see the intersectional approach to gender-based violence against women in the Committee’s general recommendation 35, which was a very effective approach to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and peace.  Canada wished to learn more about the steps that treaty bodies were taking to prepare for the 2020 review, and urged further harmonization with other treaty bodies in order to reduce the workload related to reporting.

Paraguay asked the Committee to explain why some States could benefit from the simplified reporting procedure and others could not, and how a decision that all States could benefit from the procedure would impact the Committee’s work.

Switzerland thanked the Committee Experts for their commitment to gender equality and encouraged the Committee’s further cooperation with UN Women, while deeper cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women would improve the implementation of its concluding observations concerning gender-based violence.  Switzerland was heartened by the constant attention that the Committee gave to women, peace and security in its dialogues with States, including those which did not experience conflict.

Turkey welcomed the adoption of general recommendation number 35 and its fresh look at violence against women, one of the most flagrant violations of human rights nationally and internationally.  Turkey was committed to improving the living standards of women, ensuring their full participation at all levels, and would continue its constructive engagement with the Committee.

Egypt said that it had made considerable progress in advancing the rights and equality of women, stressing in particular the adoption of the Constitution in 2014, which included several provisions to guarantee the equality of women and prohibit discrimination against them.  The National Council for Women led a broad process to develop the strategy for women empowerment to 2030.

Norway was very pleased with the simplified reporting procedure and said that the list of issues prior to reporting was very useful in focusing the constructive dialogue.  How did the Committee contribute to the harmonization of treaty body methods?  The Committee should adopt a comprehensive calendar for State party reviews and harmonize it with other treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review.

Belgium stressed the critical importance of the Committee in monitoring the implementation of human rights treaties and agreeing that the treaty bodies system had grown, expressed great support to the strengthening process of treaty bodies.  Belgium was very much in favour of an even more generalized application of the simplified reporting procedure, and proposed reducing the number of follow-up rounds to one.  The reporting calendar should ensure that States’ reporting obligations were spread evenly, and in this regard, Belgium expressed support for the proposals made by the Geneva Academy for Human Rights.

Discussion

In their comments, the Committee Experts thanked the States parties for their support, suggestions, and their engagement with the Committee, noting that such exchanges allowed the Experts to understand the States’ expectations and challenges.

United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/268 on strengthening treaty bodies enjoyed the Committee’s full support, they said, noting that one of the issues with regard to treaty bodies harmonization was that each treaty body had its individual and specific mandate, and this had to be adequately reflected in the process.  

The Experts recognized the call for opening the simplified reporting procedure to everyone, as well as the harmonization of the reporting calendar, which in fact were the fundamentals of the harmonization process, and remarked that, due to their complexity, the Committee alone could not achieve this.  The cooperation and working together by all treaty bodies, States, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights were required to develop such a systematic approach.  It was up to States to bring the harmonization drive beyond treaty bodies machinery, particularly in the Special Procedures area where the proliferation of mandates – driven by States – was very prominent.  The progress in the harmonization process, they stressed, had been made in those instances where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had been given resources to support the thinking and reflection process, without which it was not possible to effect a change.

The Experts highlighted the lack of resources and the growing tasks and workload – an expression of the progress in the respect for human rights was not being matched by the resource allocation.  This created very strenuous and unsustainable working conditions for the Secretariat staff, who were extremely professional.

The Committee had decided to establish a standing task force on women, peace and security, in recognition of the importance given to the issue, and to ensure that women were not only considered as victims but as active agents of change.

The Committee was completely ready to engage on the issues related to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

__________

For use of the information media; not an official record